Friday, October 31, 2003

Cabin Shields Might Have Saved Crew: "'This physical evidence makes a compelling argument that crew survival under environmental circumstances seen in this mishap could be possible given the appropriate level of physiological and environmental protection,' wrote former astronaut James Bagian, who co-authored a crew survivability report (PDF) that is among six volumes of data released Tuesday by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. …

"The [Columbia] crew cabin … emerged from the main body breakup intact, the study noted. It was destroyed shortly thereafter by aerodynamic heating and structural stresses. Pathologists determined that the seven astronauts died from a lack of oxygen and blunt force trauma. The precise times of death could not be established, the report said, but occurred sometime after the breakup of the orbiter itself.

"A similar finding was made after the 1986 Challenger accident. Challenger's crew cabin, likewise, survived the initial explosion that destroyed the main body of the shuttle. Challenger and seven astronauts were lost during a launch accident. After the Challenger accident, NASA researched ways to outfit the crew cabins with shields and extra life support gear so they could serve as emergency escape pods. High costs, however, prompted managers to shelve the project. …"

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